Niwot’s Neighbors: Bumble Bees

Violet Oliver, Journalist

Spring has sprung and as the flowers begin to open up bumblebees will no doubt start pollination. Unlike their honey-making counterparts, bumblebees are native to Colorado, and have been successfully pollinating native plants long before the arrival of humans. Today, bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the crops we eat.

 

How they do so has remained a mystery. For the longest time, bumblebees were thought to defy aerodynamics, being too fat and fuzzy to fly. However, it was later revealed with improved cinematography that the bees flap their wings side to side to fly, instead of up and down like most other birds and insects. The bumblebee’s impossibly fuzzy exoskeleton serves a practical purpose as well: it picks up far more pollen than a smooth coat. Combined with fan-like stubby wings, the bumble bee easily becomes akin to a pollen cloud.

 

Bumblebees’ capabilities aren’t restricted to pollen gathering, either. Scientists have trained the bees to pull strings and recognize objects. A team in Australia found that bees could create mental images, a trait previously thought to exist only in animals with complex brains. Perhaps most surprising, is that bumblebees have been trained to play “soccer” by learning to move a ball into a goal in order to obtain a reward.

 

Bumblebees may be tiny, but they enjoy a ball game as much as anyone. If they weren’t busy producing all of America’s food, they might one day make their way down to the ball field!